Category Archives: Classics

“Art Is Risk”: Francis Ford Coppola

I’ll make you a film you can’t refuse…

BY SHAWN WHITNEY

Our director of photography, Alex Lisman, shared this excerpted conversation with the great director Francis Ford Coppola on the Facebook wall of myself and my co-director, Kathryn Palmateer. I think he meant to inspire us (as opposed to intimidating us by reminding us that we’re trying to do the same thing as the dude who directed The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, et al). The whole conversation is worth reading but there were a few little tidbits, brilliant insights and controversial comments that I thought were worth sharing for those who don’t have the time to read the whole thing. What do you think about these, especially his thoughts on the freedom of art and the need for risk?

On art, risk and commerce:

Even in the early days of the movies, they didn’t know how to make movies. They had an image and it moved and the audience loved it. You saw a train coming into the station, and just to see motion was beautiful.

The cinema language happened by experimentation – by people not knowing what to do. But unfortunately, after 15-20 years, it became a commercial industry. People made money in the cinema, and then they began to say to the pioneers, “Don’t experiment. We want to make money. We don’t want to take chances.”

An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk.

On the freedom of art and film piracy:

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

On directing:

You must never be the kind of director, I think maybe I was when I was 18, “No, no, no, I know best.” That’s not good. You can make the decision that you feel is best, but listen to everyone, because cinema is collaboration. I always like to say that collaboration is the sex of art because you take from everyone you’re working with.

On theme as the basis for making those directing decisions:

When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word. In “The Godfather,” it was succession. In “The Conversation,” it was privacy. In “Apocalypse,” it was morality.

The reason it’s important to have this is because most of the time what a director really does is make decisions. All day long: Do you want it to be long hair or short hair? Do you want a dress or pants? Do you want a beard or no beard? There are many times when you don’t know the answer. Knowing what the theme is always helps you.

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